Title: The Sense of Paper
Author: Taylor Holden
Genre: Modern fiction
Publisher: Bantam Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First line: Fragments of memory pierce her subconsciousness like shards of broken glass.
The subtitle of Taylor Holden’s The Sense of Paper is “A Novel of Obsessions,” and that’s a perfect way to describe this book. It’s part art history, part romance, part psychological thriller; this book was a great way to spend my reading time the past few days.
Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson used to be a war correspondent. She’s seen the worst atrocities imaginable and written about them so that the rest of the world would be informed. And like most war journalists, she thought she was immune to the violence around her – until Kosovo. After being brutally attacked, Charlie gives up journalism, and settles down on the Suffolk coast to write a book about British watercolorist, J.M.W. Turner, and the handmade art paper that he used for his work.
Sir Alan Matheson is a renowned artist and expert on all things Turner and paper. He agrees to collaborate with Charlie on her book, and their relationship quickly develops beyond friendship. But as Charlie gets closer to Alan, she realizes that the fragile connection they have made is vulnerable to the demons in her past – and the secrets Alan is keeping from her. Is he as good as he seems, or is there something sinister hiding under his sensual charisma?
I read The Sense of Paper for the art history challenge, and I loved learning about the history of paper and the paper-making process, as well as how the quality of paper changes the nature of art. I have always liked Turner’s watercolors, and it was interesting to learn more about the man, although I think the portions of the book where Charlie is writing about Turner are the weakest part of the book.
Ms. Holden excels is in writing about psychological turmoil and relationships. The relationship between Charlie and her parents and her grandfather, her relationship with her ex-husband Nick and her best friend Carrie – they are all authentically written, and I began to care about the resolution to each storyline.
Holden gradually reveals the horrors in Charlie’s past, peeling back one layer at a time as Charlie tries to come to a measure of healing. The mystery surrounding Sir Alan is also exposed bit by bit, and I was actually surprised by the ending. I was sure I knew what was coming, but I was wrong. It’s a wonderful thing when an author surprises you!
This is Ms. Holden’s first novel, and there were a few ways in which this showed – most of which could have been fixed with better editing. I find the use of a lot of -ly adverbs distracting: “she smiled thinly” and “the voice inquired gingerly” – that sort of thing. Most of those could have been eliminated, and the writing would have been more crisp and precise. There were also some sentences that were a bit awkward, but those minor details detracted very little from my enjoyment of the book. I will definitely be looking for more of Ms. Holden’s work.
Click over to J.M.W. Turner’s Wikipedia page to see some of his work. Here’s one of my favorites, Chichester Canal: